US military launches airstrikes near Iraq's Haditha Dam

Reuters / Hamad I Mohammed
The United States military says it’s launched airstrikes around Iraq's Haditha Dam to prevent the area from being captured by Islamic State militants.

The dam in western Iraq’s Anbar Province, a major source of water and electrical power, is currently in control of the Iraqis, but there have been attempts by the militants to take over the vital facility.

The Sunday airstrikes on the area around the dam were carried out at the request of the Iraqi government, according to US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who is currently on a trip to Georgia's capital, Tbilisi.

"If that dam would fall into ISIL's (Islamic State's) hands or if that dam would be destroyed, the damage that that would cause would be very significant and it would put a significant, additional and big risk into the mix in Iraq," Hagel told reporters.

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The Haditha Dam is Iraq's second-largest hydroelectric contributor to the country’s power system. A power station containing six electricity generators is located near the dam.

Islamic State fighters made an attempt to take the area under control last month. They were driven back by Iraqi forces, with support from local Sunni tribes.

"They (the air strikes) were very accurate. There was no collateral damage ... If Islamic State had gained control of the dam, many areas of Iraq would have been seriously threatened, even Baghdad," Sheik Ahmed Abu Risha told Reuters.

The US military also reported on Sunday it had launched new airstrikes near the Mosul Dam, the largest in Iraq, targeting militants in the area.

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The Islamic State fighters managed to take control of the Mosul Dam in early August. However, persistent US strikes forced the militants out of the area, the first significant defeat for them since the US re-entered the conflict with airstrikes.

The Islamic State (IS) has not given up on attempts to recapture the strategic facility and the US has continued to conduct airstrikes near the dam to keep the fighters away.

The US military announced earlier this week that it had completed its 124th airstrike in Iraq near the Mosul Dam, destroying or damaging 16 IS vehicles.